There are at least 13 different kinds of love song. How many have you written?
Writing love songs has been a staple of songwriters throughout history, dating back at least 1,000 years to the troubadours and trobairitz (female troubadours).
When you write a love song, you explore themes that everybody can relate to: from the rush of flirting with an attractive stranger, to the constant tug of infatuation that distracts a lover’s mind all day. The shaky knees before going out, the warm comforts of coming home to a long-term partner, the sick-to-your-stomach heartbreak… the world is in love with love songs.
If you’re ever stuck for things to write about, scan the list below. I bet at least one of these 13 types of love song will trigger an idea, and you’ll be writing a new lyric in no time.
Young Love & First Love
First girlfriends, first boyfriends, first kisses, and “puppy love” all fall under this category. Gillian Welch wrote a song called “My First Lover” in this vein. Many songs of this type also contain elements of a coming-of-age story; “Strawberry Wine” is a great example of a lyric about young love and growing up.
Desire & Seduction
Songs about flirting, seduction, and desire come in many varieties. They range from cute and wholesome to hot and heavy. Compare the writing of “Baby It’s Cold Outside” to “Let’s Get it On”. Seduction doesn’t necessarily have to happen between strangers, by the way — you could also write a song about a longstanding couple reigniting their passion. “Kiss Me” by Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan is a fiery example.
Taboos & Forbidden Love
In this type of song, there’s a logical or a social reason why one or both people shouldn’t be engaging in the relationship, but they’re drawn to each other anyway for intense emotional reasons. Romeo & Juliet has enjoyed 400 years of popularity, and it’s still going strong — this theme is timeless. So, for a dash of excitement, try writing a song about a taboo or a forbidden liaison.
Searching & Singlehood
These are songs written about looking for love. A song in this theme could be a triumphant announcement that a character’s single and available — or the tone could be frustrated. Songs in this category might also be about what the song’s narrator wants from a significant other. For example, Alanis Morissette wrote: “21 Things I Want in a Lover”. Percy Mayfield wrote “Please Send Me Someone to Love” and then Sade sang the best version.
Loneliness & Longing
Songs about loneliness, heartache, and unrequited love are also known as torch songs. This includes songs that are about missing a specific person — maybe the missing one ended the relationship. Or maybe they were taken away by a fatal accident, old age, a new job in a new city… and so on. In some lyrics the person is just away for a while, so the mood’s playful and light. Other lyrics can be quite somber, as the person is gone forever. Still other lyrics in this category aren’t about a specific person at all — instead, they’re just about a general desire to be loved or feel wanted. Great songs about longing include “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing”, Wilco’s “Hate it Here”, and Percy Mayfield’s “Please Send Me Someone to Love”.
Crushes, Infatuation, & New Loves
Songs of this type are all about that breathless rush of attraction when you first meet somebody you like — shaky knees and all. Oren Lavie’s “Her Morning Elegance” is a great example of a song written from the perspective of a totally infatuated character. He gushes about every little thing his love interest does. While writing this type of song, many songwriters also include passages about hoping, or sometimes even asking directly — does the other person feel the same way?
Romance & Commitment
This type of song is all about romantic love, commitments, and promises… And also renewal of commitment. This category could include songs about asking whether a person would like to begin dating exclusively. It could include marriage proposals and renewal of vows. In other words, any plans or commitments that one or both partners might make fall under this category.
Intimacy & Companionship
Beyond lust and attraction, every healthy relationship has an element of closeness and friendship. This category could include songs that pour out appreciation for a partner, or express closeness and empathy. If you ask me, there aren’t enough good songs out there about couples bonding. You may have heard somebody say “I’m married to my best friend”. This long-term companionship is exactly what they’re talking about. It’s what happens when love settles in and gets comfortable.
Jealousy & Rivalry
This category covers songs about love triangles and rivalry between would-be suitors. “Jolene” by Dolly Parton is a great example of this. Nagging suspicions, fears of infidelity, and quiet jealousy are common in real-world relationships, so listeners can relate very well to songs on those themes.
Complications & Conflicts
In Disney films, the prince and the princess live happily ever after. In the unscripted real world, though, romance is complex. Songs about complication and conflict deal directly with these difficult issues — in a lyric a sudden fight might erupt, or a relationship may slowly derail over a long period of time. Confessions could be considered a form of confrontation, too: one or both partners are finally airing something (maybe something unpleasant or scary) about their relationship, and beginning to deal with it for better or worse. The couple may be confronting a serious issue together, or one partner may be confronting the other.
Apologies, Compromise, & Reconciliation
Songs of reconciliation & forgiveness fit in this category. “Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word” is an example of an apology song. The kind of humility that it takes to make an apology can be very attractive to listeners.
Rejections, Breakups, & Divorce
Here we’ve got songs about ending relationships, severing ties, and dealing with the fallout. There’s a variety of situations to write about here: breakups can be one-sided, or they can be mutual. There can be a feeling of relief about moving on, or intense grieving. Some songs of this type lay blame at the other partner; other songs of this type express guilt or regret. Some breakups are full of understanding and compassion — others are cruel and unfair. “The Thrill is Gone” is a classic in this theme.
Love Itself — Reflections & Advice
In this category, the character muses about the nature of love itself, perhaps making a judgment about it. The lyric of John Cale’s version of “Hallelujah” is a great example of this kind of theme brought to life through literary allusions, metaphor, and compelling imagery. Sometimes this kind of song takes the form of a jaded, wounded, or wise person giving romantic warnings or advice to others.
Whenever you find yourself short on song ideas, return to this list. Despite the tens of thousands of love songs already written, there’s still plenty of fresh material to be found in the 13 themes above, especially when you take any one of those themes from a fresh and original angle.
Photo by Ms Phoenix